When the spires of churches, abbeys and cathedrals rose against the backdrop of the pristine rural landscape of medieval Britain, no one complained about how the tall monuments to the Christian god polluted the hills and the valleys. Nobody said in desperate anguish,
Well, probably not, as any medieval church nimby who dared to complain would likely be on the receiving end of medieval Christian love: your property confiscated by the church and a burning at the stake. Fortunately, these days such complainants wouldn’t be at the vicious mercy of lords and clerics. At worst they get ridicule.
So step up Rt Revd Martin Wharton, the Bishop of Newcastle.
In a sermon against wind farms he somehow managed to imply that wind turbines are un-Christian, claiming the demonic wind turbines are turning the North East countryside into a “disfigured industrial landscape”:
“It is a basic Christian truth that we all have a duty and a responsibility to care for and exercise wise stewardship over God’s creation, which has been entrusted to us.”
The ‘basic truth’ is that our modern society needs energy. Lots of it. We also need to produce energy whilst at the same time reducing our carbon emissions to try and minimise the inevitable effects of climate change. Wind, along with solar energy, ground source heat and other renewable and low carbon energy sources each need to form part of mixed energy solution.
Wharton, along with many wind turbine objectors, seem to hold a vague romantic view of the rural landscape, putting it on a mythic pastoral pedestal. The reality is different; our rural landscape is home to the industry of providing food, a landscape designed, shaped and developed over a thousand years to feed people and maximise profits for landowners. Enjoying the benefits of the latest in agricultural technology: materials, machinery and an arsenal of chemicals to squeeze out every ounce of productivity, a environment equally moulded by technology as it is by social change. Underground, the mines of the North East provided the lead, iron and coal to fuel the industrial revolution. Electricity pylons and telephone lines carry electricity and words, roads and railways carrying people, all have had a criss-crossing visual impact on the countryside. It’s a landscape which has been evolving for thousands of years, and we’ve become so accustomed to many of these “blots on our landscape” that they have become part of it. It’s a delicious irony that many of those who object to wind farms in Northumberland also want to see the very same countryside slashed with a dual carriageway all the way through the county.
Much of the wealth of the Church of England has been from it’s massive property holdings, so the church holds some responsibility for the current appearance of much of Britain’s landscape. Hypocrisy? You betcha. Inclosure acts took land from communities and handed it over to landowners, changing rural society forever, with open land sliced away in a thousand pen strokes, the church often profiting from such acts. Here in South Tyneside, the Church Commissioners’ vision of a “wise stewardship over God’s creation” included a plan to build a ‘business park’ and housing over the green belt at Fellgate in Jarrow. In Gateshead the “wise stewardship” gave us the Metrocentre, ushering in out of town shopping, increased car use and the near death of many town centres. Even now it looks like the Church Commissioners are seeking to claim mineral rights using ancient laws, looking forward to mammonic feast at the fracking trough.
The church cannot pretend to be protectors of our landscape or our environment.
Now, with wind farms, we are seeing the next step in the evolution of our northern landscapes (and seascapes), producing energy for an ever power hungry nation. As an industrial scale technology, the second wind energy revolution is still in it’s infancy, and many detractors like Wharton use this to imply that the technology is unproven or unable to provide energy adequately:
“There is no evidence that I have seen that suggests that wind farms will ever provide the reliable, controllable energy that is required by our society, however many there might be.
“Furthermore some studies have even suggested that far from reducing CO2 emissions, wind farms actually increase them.”
Go back a mere hundred and twenty years, and many people with a similarly Luddite bent would be saying something eerily similar about electricity.
It shouldn’t really be surprising that a cleric would try to justify his opinion using an ancient holy book – the same holy book which also gives valuable nuggets of advice about how you should beat your wife and slave, and stone children for giving you lip. However, when claiming a lack of evidence for an emerging technology, Wharton should realise that his glass house of god doesn’t stand up to the rocks of evidence at all.
“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
David Potts, South Tyneside’s councillor for the bunga bunga party, put a remarkable example of science illiteracy on display for everyone to see. Last Thursday, he declared on Twitter:
“I wish people would realise that climate change is a total myth backed by zero evidence.”
I’m not sure what he thinks of the masses of evidence for climate change that has been collected over decades. The many years of work dedicated by scientists, the millions of pounds worth of experiments, the satellites and a planetary network of climate data collection. If it’s a ‘myth’, did the legions of scientists make it up? Is there a massive conspiracy by a shadowy green cabal with a diabolical plan for mind control? Could all of those scientists be wrong?
Most climate scientists agree that the evidence points to one conclusion: climate change is proven. If there’s any uncertainty, it’s the pace and severity of the changes that will come. The impacts of climate change pose a real risk to current and future generations. For the UK, it is a national security issue. Ignoring it is foolhardy and dangerous, and addressing the risks is a sensible approach. A destabilised ecosystem means a destabilised food supply, infrastructure and ultimately, society. It’s also an ethical issue. Those who are likely to suffer the most will be those from low incomes, or from countries where the support infrastructures are poor or non-existent.
The denial lobby have no credibility – scientific or otherwise.
From a party political standpoint, Potts’ view is entirely consistent with UKIP policy. Xenophobia and homophobia aren’t the only personality disorders that UKIP shares with the BNP. Like the BNP, UKIP holds a position denying that the planet’s climate is changing, or that the activities of homo sapiens could be responsible. When challenged on Twitter, Potts responded:
“Show me one solid, irrefutable piece of evidence and I’ll believe it”
What about the mountains of evidence? This is remarkably similar to his comment piece in the Journal newspaper in 2005 where he called on:
“anyone to show me just one single solitary shred of concrete proof that humans contributed or are at all responsible for global warming”
…and claimed that:
“reducing emissions is a complete and utter waste of time and money.”
Such buffoonery would be comical if it wasn’t for the fact that Potts sits in a position of responsibility. There’s no excuse for a politician not to be familiar with climate change after all this time; the causes, the science, the risks, and the possible solutions and mitigation actions. Potts makes decisions on policy. He has a responsibility to be informed, to know what the science says. If a politician claims the science to be a “myth”, then that’s not the voice of rationality, but an ignorant opinion poisoned by the confirmation bias of political ideology.
As Huxley also noted:
At least two-thirds of our miseries spring from human stupidity, human malice and those great motivators and justifiers of malice and stupidity: idealism, dogmatism and proselytizing zeal on behalf of religious or political ideas.
What ‘greenest government ever’ candidates said before their parties decided to put business before the environment
Another day, another set of proposals from a government set to take the UK back into the 19th Century by removing scores of environmental regulations under the excuse of cutting red tape. At the last election, parliamentary candidates for my home town of South Shields were desperate to show how green their political landscape was. Here’s what Karen Allen, Conservative Parliamentary candidate for South Shields at the last election, said about the Tories’ position on the environment:
From the very beginning of his leadership of the Conservative Party, David Cameron made clear that Britain must take a position of leadership on the global – as well as our own – environment.
Given the Conservative’s plans to to slash and burn environment regulations, it seems that the real commitment wasn’t to the environment, but to let business get on with polluting our beautiful country.
But let’s not forget those enablers of the Tories’ wholesale plans to turn the UK into a hell-hole. I have a lot of time for Stephen Psallidas, the Lib Dem candidate for South Shields at the last election. He walks the walk (or cycles), but his description of his party’s dedication to environment doesn’t match with the reality of Oliver Letwin’s cull of environmental protections:
Both I personally, and the Lib Dems as a party, are very strongly committed to tackling climate change, and progressing environmental policy generally.
So, the Lib Dem commitment to ‘progressing environmental policy’ has turned out to be something more like ambivalence.
Without our ecological assets we can’t take anything for granted; health, food, water. Worrying about the relatively minor economic benefits of cutting ‘red tape’ to buff the bottom line of companies is insanity. Our environment provides us with an unaccountably awesome value – for free – a value which will be lost if business is allowed operate without sensible checks and set free to rape the environment.
It seems that we are doomed to repeat our mistakes. Well at least the Con-Dem government is. A question has been doing the rounds recently in an attempt to explore the current Con-Dem approach to the economy by comparing it to a fabled Tory golden age: what would Thatcher do?
The answer would be simple: strip the state’s assets and put them into the hands of the markets.
Yesterday’s announcement that the government was planning to ‘get Britain building’ should set off alarm bells for anyone who has taken the slightest notice of the housing market over the last thirty years. In a desperate attempt to boost the economy the government wants to introduce a mortgage indemnity scheme, where the government would underwrite mortgages – for lenders – of up to 95 per cent loan to value. This means the taxpayer will carry the risk of high LTV mortgages going south.
And South is where much of this money will go. As house prices are already high in the southern regions, returns there are much more attractive for developers. This means yet again, government adding further heat to an already overheated south, boosting building in already overcrowded areas or on attractive greenfield sites, and help further push southern region house values into the stratosphere.
At a time when government can hardly issue a press release without mentioning national debt, it intends to implement a scheme which will increase personal debt and government risk of debt, as lenders will take full advantage of this guarantee. It’s not hard to imagine that underwriting decisions by lenders will be made in this light, making risky lending decisions more common.
So who benefits? Builders build, lenders lend and people will get to buy pretty new houses. Sounds great doesn’t it? But what this plan really represents is a privatisation of the profit whilst nationalising the risk.
It seems this government is only too happy to help the dead hand of the market along, despite the claims of Tories and Lib Dems.
Sadly, Labour support this policy.
Instead of creating another housing price bubble built on debt – underwritten by the tax payer – there should be a move to fund the building of affordable social housing. The Tories started to kill off social housing with the right to buy scheme (another example of tax payer funded housing market interference). Labour failed to stop the decay, instead allowing councils to offload their social housing portfolios into arms length management organisations and privatisation on the cheap.
We have a government and ‘opposition’ policy which will encourage subprime lending masquerading as first class mortgages (where have we seen that before?) that will ultimately fail to provide what is desperately needed: quality low cost housing developed to meet the needs of a 21st Century society.
A national social housing building and renovation project could be used to usher in a new generation of low and zero carbon housing, provide much needed building jobs with new skills using sustainable technologies, which could help kick start a fledgling green building industry.
There is a housing crisis, but it offers an opportunity to regenerate Britain’s housing into something that would benefit society a lot more than the short term interests of property speculators. Instead of getting all misty eyed over 1980s Thatcherite home ownership dogma we need a diverse – and sustainable – modern housing infrastructure to face Britain’s future housing needs.
The Gazette’s front page splash on South Tyneside Council’s plans to commit us to a 25 year contract for waste incineration (16th September) is a clear example of PR before fact.
The project is heralded by the Gazette as an ‘eco-friendly revolution’. There’s nothing eco-friendly about incineration. Despite the claim that the incinerator will ‘save’ 64,000 tons of CO2 every year, this is only in comparison to landfilling without methane reclamation. If South Tyneside Council and it’s partners Sunderland and Gateshead had chosen sustainable reclamation instead of burning, the CO2 saving could have been considerably more, and kilowatt for kilowatt incinerators produce more CO2 than traditional gas-fired power stations.
Full reclamation and recycling also saves valuable materials which can be reused, saving more energy than is created by burning the waste and reducing the need to make products from virgin material. This in turn helps to protect fragile ecosystems around the world from pollution, deforestation and habitat loss.
Councillor Jim Perry claims that incineration helps to “increase recycling and protect the environment”, but he’s wrong. Incinerators need a minimum and consistent stream of waste to function profitably. Incineration contracts like the one our council’s signed up to locks us into to supplying waste to burn for decades, which means there’s little incentive to increase recycling if you’re financially committed to feed an incinerator.
South Tyneside Council had an opportunity to usher in a cleaner sustainable future without the ecological burden of incineration.
It was an opportunity wasted.
Given the sad news of Dennis Hopper’s death, it seems appropriate that today’s music includes Hopper giving the Gorillaz a hand on a track on their 2005 Demon Days album.
This track, Fire Coming Out Of The Monkey’s Head, is a parable on greed pushing the earth’s ecological limits, and how sometimes it pushes back.
Stephen Hepburn’s calls for coal gasification to be pursued “until renewables are sufficiently advanced” (King coal can rule again, 20 September) incorrectly implies that renewable technologies are not up to the task of powering the UK.
The reality is that a diverse range of renewables are available – here and now – and well ahead of the drawing-board status of new nuclear and coal technologies.
Unfortunately, renewables suffer from an acute lack of political will and investment in both the technology and infrastructure required for a green energy future.
The coal technologies championed by Mr Hepburn are years away and will not satisfy the urgent need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
We need significant policy change and the necessary signals from government to encourage investment to kick-start a renewable industrial revolution for a sustainable, safe and secure energy future.